Starbucks® does lots of things right. For one thing, the company's core product is still coffee; Starbucks does what it knows best. For another, it knows how to place its stores strategically; they prefer to be near dry cleaners, because customers make both a drop-off and pick-up visit to the same location.

The something special with Starbucks that drives its expansion and popularity, however, may be summed up most simply in the words of Howard Schultz. "We're not in the coffee business serving people," he insists. "We're in the people business serving coffee."

It seems so obvious that you'd think everybody would follow suit with this principle that generates success in business. I know! Every business would insist that its first priority is the customer, but we customers know better. Practically having to slap a clerk to get his attention or having to wait through an obviously personal cell phone call to pay a cashier is exasperating. Then getting a sullen stare rather than a "May I help you?" doesn't help. And then there is the seldom-heard line as you relinquish your hard-earned money for items you almost feel were arm-wrestled from the people getting paid to sell them: "Thank you!"

Maybe I'm a case for some psychologist to study for her doctoral project. Perhaps the problem is altogether with me as a customer. But my father supported his family selling hardware and taught his sons to treat customers as important people. Where is that sentiment in the stores I frequent?

It has become a game with me. Coming to the cashier, I will not accept "Cash or charge?" or "Paper or plastic?" as a greeting. My response is a smiling "Hello!" If there is a repeat of the "Cash or charge?" or simply (as once last week) a glowering stare, I do it a second time. "Hi! How are you today?" I've never had the courage to try it three times in a row for fear of being slapped. I just plink down my money, shake my head, and leave — vowing never to go back there.

It helps that Starbucks not only trains its employees to pay attention to people, but treats them well. For example, the company provides full health benefits even for its part-time workers. In fact, I confess to having disliked Starbucks — and derisively calling it "Fourbucks" — until my wife told me the company spends more on health care for its workers than for coffee. People who are treated well by management are more likely to treat customers well.

Hey, not every Starbucks worker gets it right. I can take you to at least one location that makes a mockery of the Schultz credo about "the people business." For the most part, though, they really seem to get it.

It's time we made the effort.
For the rest of us who deal with the public, it's time we made the effort.

[Jesus said] "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 5:19 TNIV).